Rowing Through (1996) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's notes in white:

I don't agree at all with the one star awarded this film by the Toronto Star, but I thought they had one funny line in the review:

"In managing to be both simultaneously meek and inscrutable, Rowing Through is at least representative in its role as the first official Japanese-Canadian production ever" 

I don't know. It seems to me that Japanese-Canadian projects should concentrate on cartoons with giant-eyed kids playing hockey and holding pelts. Plenty of pelts.


Helen Shaver showed her breasts in an after-sex scene, and earlier in a brief flash while rolling over in bed. There is also a peek at half of her pubic area in the apres-sex scene.

Leslie Hope showed all of the goods during and after a sex scene.

Colin Ferguson showed his buns on several occasions

Kidding aside, I don't think the movie is meek at all. It realistically portrays the flaws of some athletes who rebel childishly against authority; it features a 24 year old Olympic hopeful with a 45 year old Russian girlfriend; it includes a crazy energetic sex scene which ends when the woman says "slow down, it's not a race"; and it shows a bunch of athletes behaving the way athletes really behave - talking dirty, playing jokes on each other, constantly jealous of each other. It has toplessness from a 45-year-old woman and full-frontal nudity from an attractive woman in her 20s. The main character calls a press conference so he can call U.S. President Jimmy Carter a "little peanut-farming cocksucker."

Does that sound "meek"?

The least meek thing about it is that it lets us into the thoughts of the athletes during times of stress, and they really think some pretty nasty things about their opponents.

As for "inscrutable" ... well, maybe. 

The screenplay is based on a David Halberstam book called The Amateurs, which posited that the oarsmen of the 70s were the last real amateur athletes, because whatever they did in rowing, they did for their own satisfaction. No outsiders followed their results. They attracted no cheerleaders, no fans, no groupies, no sponsors, no Wheaties boxes, no endorsement contracts, and no press. During the Olympics, they were always far from the main venues, attracted no sponsors, and got listed as an afterthought in the newspapers. And that was the summit of their fame. Their other competitions never made the papers at all.

The book and the film detail the struggles of three of these athletes and their mutual coach. Those four men (Tiff Wood, John Bigelow, Joe Bouscaren, Harry Parker) actually worked day-to-day on the project, and were allowed to keep everything in the film in synch with the way it really happened. Not that it matters to the audience. It could all be fictional and you'd never know it because, after all, nobody remembers these guys. That's pretty much the point. Their obscurity made them perfect as the metaphorical representation of genuine athletic purity.

The main character in this drama lived an athletic life even more anonymous than usual for a rower because he couldn't even get to the Olympics for his one moment in the sun (or at least near the sun). After all the years of self-denial and rigorous training, he wasn't permitted to participate in the 1980 Olympics because he was American and the United States withdrew from the games. In case you had forgotten, President Carter pulled the American athletes out of the Moscow Olympics because Russia invaded Afghanistan. At the time, Carter's action merely seemed like a pointless, grandstanding gesture which had the side-effect of ruining the lives of a lot of people who trained all their lives for the Olympics, many of whom would never get another chance, because an athlete's window of opportunity is very short in some sports. From our current perspective, Carter's gesture seems more than merely futile, because the United States has since proved that it is not really all that opposed to invading Afghanistan! Unfortunately, that generation of athletes can't get their lives back, although the main character in this film tried his best to do do. He postponed his dream for another four years, and kept training well past the age when it was practical to do so.

Rowing Through has a gritty, real feel to it that is missing from most sports movies. In essence, it's the Jack Webb version of a sports movie - "just the facts, ma'am." There's no winning one for the Gipper, no unrealistic last minute miracles, no poetic speeches. The result? Well, let's face it, unembellished reality is not always interesting. The script, like the reality it adheres to, can be boring at times, not to mention repetitious, excessively technical, excessively sentimental, and unfocused.

But it also has moments when it is very, very good.  

Tuna's comments in yellow

The crime in this film was that the DVD transfer wasn't better, as it was beautifully photographed. 

Most genres have formulas, for instance, we have 

  • the boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl Hollywood love formula

  • the boy meets girl, boy loses girl, such is life French love story

  • the athlete shows promise, athlete suffers possibly career ending injury, athlete becomes superstar formula

  • the athlete becomes successful, athlete turns into an asshole, athlete becomes a human being again formula.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • no widescreen 

  • no features

  • no better than VHS quality

The strength of Rowing Through, to me, was that it did not follow the formulae. Rather, it was a true story about real athletes, the amazing amount of dedication they have, and more agony of defeat than thrill of victory. Formula pictures exist because the general public understands them, and doesn't get lost. When you step outside the formula, you are running a box-office risk. I admire the filmmakers for taking a story about athletes in a minor sport, and presenting their lives in a very realistic manner. The only question remaining is whether or not the characters are interesting enough to be entertaining, and for me, they were.

The film will not appeal to action-oriented viewers, and is properly rated a C, but I will personally order a remastered DVD if it is ever produced.

The Critics Vote

  • Toronto Sun 1/5

The People Vote ...

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C (both reviewers). OK sports movie, possibly would rate even higher with a good DVD transfer. We both rather liked the movie.

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